SUNRISE, Fla. -- In his first season with the Florida Panthers, versatile winger Reilly Smith wasted no time in establishing himself as an integral member of the team's ever-expanding group of talented young forwards.
After a brief two-year stint in Boston, Smith was dealt to the Panthers along with the contract of Marc Savard for the rights to big-bodied forward Jimmy Hayes on July 1, 2015.
“It’s an exciting time to be a part of this team and this organization because it seems like they are on the up-and-up,” Smith told FloridaPanthers.com not long after the trade occurred. “It’s nice to see they are honing in on the direction they want to take.”
An immediate contributor on offense, the 25-year-old Smith certainly took full advantage of his fresh start, setting new career marks for goals (25), shots (173) and average ice time per game (18:37), while spending the majority of the season playing alongside Vincent Trocheck and Jussi Jokinen on Florida’s second line.
“I had a lot of opportunity (in Florida),” Smith said after cleaning out his locker at the BB&T Center in April. “I played with great linemates. I can’t thank the organization and my teammates enough for the help that they’ve given me this season. Hopefully that’s just a bench mark and I can continue getting better every season.”
When asked to describe the changes in his game that contributed to this breakout season, Smith didn’t point to any specific workouts, equipment upgrades or advanced training methods, but rather a newfound confidence the Panthers went out of their way to instill in him upon his arrival.
“I’d say that’s probably one of the biggest driving forces in the success that I had this year,” Smith said. “Like I said before, I can’t thank the organization and the team enough. It was a lot of fun coming to the rink every day and I think that was one thing that made this team so good.”
Following his stellar regular-season performance, Smith’s scoring prowess spilled over into Florida’s Eastern Conference Quarterfinals matchup with the New York Islanders, earning him the nickname “Reilly Smythe” for his MVP-like performance during the opening-round series.
“When things are going well, it’s easy to have a little bit of swagger in your step. I definitely felt that in the first few games of the playoffs,” said Smith, who recorded a team-high eight points (4-4—8) in six playoff games. “Being able to play with the guys I did this season, they help you a lot and build your confidence every day, so I can’t thank them enough.”
No Panthers forward saw more ice time than Smith this past season.
His 1,526:06 minutes of total ice time was not only a team high among forwards, but also the most by any Panthers forward since Stephen Weiss skated 1,640:49 in 2011-12.
These massive minutes undoubtedly stem from Smith’s unique ability to play exceptionally well in all situations, as evidenced by his total time on the power play (187:17) and shorthanded (210:40).
Smith scored a pair of goals and added an assist in Florida’s 5-4 loss to the New York Islanders in Game 1 of their Eastern Conference Quarterfinals matchup on April 14.
GOAL OF THE YEAR
Let’s just call this one “Reilly’s Rocket.”
In an amazing display of power that still manages to look effortless even after repeat viewings, Smith fires a powerful shot off the crossbar and past Sabres goaltender Robin Lehner in for his 17th goal of the season.